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Their waste polluted the ocean surf 6 years, now it’s costing them to flush the toilet

Whitepoint Swash at Briarcliffe Acres cuts between Ocean Creek and the beach by the town on Thursday, July 13, 2017.
Whitepoint Swash at Briarcliffe Acres cuts between Ocean Creek and the beach by the town on Thursday, July 13, 2017. jblackmon@thesunnews.com

It’s been six years since property owners in Briarcliffe Acres were first warned their septic tanks were to blame for sporadically high fecal bacteria readings in the Atlantic Ocean surf.

It’s taken a water quality study, construction of a needed sewer system by neighboring Myrtle Beach and a years-long battle by Briarcliffe Acres’ officials to convince those homeowners to pay the steep sewer system fees and get rid of the septic tanks.

“It’s taken this long because we were looking for voluntary cooperation,” Briarcliffe Acres Mayor Huston Huffman said Monday. “Everybody came around once they knew it was going to happen.”

It’s happening now because the town formed a municipal improvement district and a $500 daily fine is about to go into effect for anyone using a septic tank system.

The last homeowner hold-out is expected to hook up to the system in the next few weeks, Huffman said.

The City of Myrtle Beach constructed the new grinder station for Briarcliffe Acres to get rid of the waste, which went on line earlier this spring.

Myrtle Beach bankrolled the cost of the grinder station, but the bill will go to the 13 property owners with the offending septic tanks for an estimated cost of $20,000 each, Hufman said.

Complete elimination of the septic tanks in this area is expected to significantly reduce the bacteria contamination in the surf, which typically occurs after a heavy rain.

The most recent spike was July 11 when enterococcus bacteria levels were recorded at 145 — above the acceptable state measurement of 104.

A second high level this year of 1,918 was recorded Jan. 23.

Last year, the bacteria readings exceeded state levels on 12 separate occasions, including a May 3 reading of 5,172 and a June 29 reading of 1,904.

The state Department of Health and Environmental Control has a a long-term swimming advisory posted at Briarcliffe Acres. The warning sign advises against swimming near swashes after heavy rains, when contamination is most likely.

There has been no indication whether state health officials will eliminate the long-term swimming advisory once all property owners are on the sewer system.

The water quality study commissioned by Horry County in 2011 was to determine whether there was a link between elevated fecal indicator bacteria concentrations in the waters around Briarcliffe, and the septic tank systems used as the principal means of wastewater disposal in the area.

That study was obtained by The Sun News through the Freedom of Information Act, which revealed that the seeping septic systems were contributing to the high bacteria numbers. Homeowners and officials were then advised to get rid of the septic tanks.

Audrey Hudson: 843-444-1765, @AudreyHudson

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